For a couple of days now I follow the discussion about and around the new U.S. National Coach Juergen Klinsmann. Everyone that knows about soccer or not is participating somehow. One of the major headaches for the experts, what is Klinsmann about to do in order to make things better? What will he change?
Well, there is not much wisdom necessary, he will try to teach on how to win a soccer game. An important game that is. The U.S. have won soccer games before, but the important games, on a world stage, went all ”straight into the pants” as the Germans say. When experts come up with successes on a world stage, they always refer to the famous win against Spain a few years back. Well done, however, there is not a lot of value given to a win in the Confederations Cup. At least not in the big soccer world. Successes are measured in world cup accomplishments. What counts for the big soccer nations is reaching the semifinal and up at the world cup. The rest is “cold coffee”, also a German saying.
The problem of the past years in U.S. soccer is a certain comfort with a few minor accomplishments and the following lack of focus on the important things (This, along with the biggest problem, college soccer, is something Klinsmann will address). While ten years ago all the U.S. had to do was catching up, 5 years ago, once they caught up, the build up for better successes was missed. The U.S. is not short of talent, we have more than many of the big soccer nations, but we are short of guys that teach a few things regarding the importance of winning a soccer game and how to win. Many of the foreign youth coaches here, gave it a try, but had to let it go, because the youth is so “protected” from doing things that are on the edge of the game. All our kids are technically very well educated. They learn to pass, dribble, juggle the ball and all those things. And those coaches that want to teach drills in that department are very popular, with parents and players, because its fun and easy. Since the most in the U.S. operate like that, on the national level that is not an issue and nice games develop. When they go to international competitions, it now starts to become difficult. The other nations can juggle the ball as well, but they do a few other things our kids have never seen before. Do the “juggle” in high pace and under physical and mental pressure turns into a struggle. On top of that, others are able to unpack a few things that for our kids are forbidden fruit and they are taught exactly that, don’t do it.
My best example of a waste of soccer talent is the actually best U.S. soccer player, Landon Donavan. Man, that boy had talent. Remember when he pulled the Germans 2002 all over the field? And almost(!) became the hero in that game? He had the talent and the abilities to become the first American world soccer star. It took him 9 more years to get a real soccer mentality and it needed a last chance in England at Everton FC. He messed up two opportunities before in Germany, in Munich and Leverkusen. Anyway, the visit in England did the trick and put him to the next level. His game and his personality has changed during the spell at Everton. When you watch him playing now and compare this to before the “break trough” in England, you can clearly see the difference. The nice young kid that could play soccer so well, became quite feisty and sometimes quite an a.. on the soccer field. He got a soccer mentality. What prevents him today from becoming a super star is, he is not 20 anymore. He missed to learn the soccer mentality when he was a teenager. That is what Klinsmann will try to teach the U.S.. Good luck, Juergen.